KAUSWAGAN, LANAO DEL NORTE – The possibility of harvesting fish worth over half a million pesos (about US$10,000) never crossed the minds of Berting Jabello and his fellow fishermen in 2008, when conflict and high food prices robbed them of their main source of income.
“During the time of the conflict, we lost our houses and our farmlands, so we fled to the seas to seek shelter and food. We stayed in our fishing boats for days, "says Berting, a fisherman from from Poblacion village in the Lanao del Norte province of Mindanao, the southernmost island of the Philippines. "Despite the threat, some of us continued to go fishing because we had to eat.”
In October 2010, the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the local government saw an opportunity to get people back on their feet through a marine and fisheries development project.
“They used to operate small fishponds, but only the owner of the land could make full use of it,” says Municipal Agriculturist Adelino F. Rico. “With a floating offshore fish cage in the sea, they can freely use it for communal initiatives supported by the government’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)."
In partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the DA and the local authorities organized Food-for-Training (FFT) activities, such as fish cage management, for formerly displaced fishermen.
“I thought it was just one of the usual seminars,” recalls Berting. “I never thought that it would lead to having this project. We were really very happy with the project as it helped us organize our group into an association called Deputized Fish Warden (DFW) which has allowed us to increase not only our fish catch but our income as well!"
The DFW is an association of 36 members who built and continually manage the fish cage. Made of bamboo, the 10m x 10 m x 6 m structure is kept afloat by plastic containers and covered with nylon netting. The cage was initially stocked with 15,000 fingerlings weighing 600 grams each, with each of the DFW members taking turns to feed them.
“Before the project, our average fish catch of two kilos per day was not enough to sustain our daily needs. After the creation of the fish cage last year, we are able to harvest 1,100 kilos of fish every three months! We are really grateful to WFP and the local government and that is why we have been taking good care of the project. It has helped increase our income that allowed us to provide food and other needs for our family," says Berting.
“We realized that we just cannot sit down and rely on what the sea can provide,” says Danilo Labajo, another fisherman who participated in the FFT activity. “By participating in the fish cage project, we can ease the pressure on our marine resources and we don’t even have to go very far out to sea, which means less expense on gasoline and more income."
To date, three batches of fish have been harvested, worth over half a million pesos (over US$10,000), with each member earning a share of 5,600 pesos (US$130) and three kilos of milk fish from each of the harvests.
During the training on fish cage management, environment-consciousness and coastal resource management, WFP, through the support of the European Union, provided 2.5 kilograms of rice for every training day attended by the fishermen, allowing them to focus on acquiring new skills without having to worry about where to get their food for the day.
This Fish Cage Project is the first and only of its kind under WFP Philippines’ EU supported Food-For-Assets project for the province of Lanao del Norte. Initially funded by the region’s BFAR, the fishermen's own association now manages and sustains the project. Aside from managing the fish cage, they have also been tasked by the local government to serve as “Bantay Dagat” (fish wardens) to help protect the coastal area from illegal fishing activities.